Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quiet night

Time for some pics. I thought I would share some Halloween faces and a photo of Dori's visit last Sunday with the kids. Kathryn is a cat, while Will is VU star receiver Earl Bennett. Last Sunday's visit was the only time the kids have seen their Mom in two weeks, though they talk daily with her on the phone.

The kids are with family and friends the next three nights, so tonight I'm alone with the dog. Talk about quiet! Tonight is the first night in two weeks Dori will be without a room companion at VUMC. She promised me she will buzz the nurses when she gets up, so I'm counting on her to use all resources. She'll enjoy being alone for the first time in weeks, as well.

So when it's finally quiet, what do you do? You pay bills, balance the checkbook, celebrate the washer and dishwasher not running, eat a few brownies, and blog, brothers and sisters!

First, I'll share words I never use ... that I'm proud about something I did. It just sunk in what I accomplished at the Virginia Beach Half Marathon last month. Yes, out of 17,000 runners, I finished 4,000-and-something and ran a PR. Not bad for a big 42-year-old. But I finished FIRST out of 487 fund-raising participants, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, in funds raised for LLS at the VB Half Marathon. Dori, you inspired me and a lot of people to do a lot of good, and there's more where that came from.

I'm loving my new role at work. I'm not going to go in to detail for a few reasons, but I'll share my employer has been very supportive of me through our life challenges. What's fun right now ... When you find a passion and a fit, you just want to achieve and excel. I'm in that groove at work, though I often think of Dori when I am working. Because of technology and family and friend support, I have been able to multi-task and perform most of my functions while maintaining a near-constant watch at home and the hospital. Of course, I don't get to jog like I once did or much else that's relaxing, for that matter. But hey, that's temporary and where life is right now. I have been dreaming about taking Dori and the kids on the beach trip I promised them this summer. Skiing in Steamboat over a long weekend would be nice, too. Bitter ale, elk and buffalo sausage, and some snow would be good.

Does it get any better than the community at St. Bernard Academy? God has blessed us by having our children there. The list of exceptional folk is a long one. I heard tonight from a friend (jokingly) that we're at that "liberal Catholic school." If liberal means loved, cherished, appreciated and embraced, we're in. My hat is off to the many SBA people who have stepped up to make this year bright on other fronts as Dori tackles leukemia.

P.S. I added a blogger friends section. Rex Hammock's blog is one of Nashville's best. Laura, if you start blogging again, I'll start "fixin' supper" ...

P.S.S. If I get time before Saturday, I'll tell you why I believe Vanderbilt has a real chance to beat Florida in the Swamp. Be on alert, Gators!

Until we blog again ...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Turning tide

I have tried to keep an even keel through everything that Dori, the kids and I are experiencing. When the lows have hit, I've tried to stay positive; when the highs visited, I've tried to stay grounded. Last week was a week of many lows. Now, the tide seems to be turning.

Dori has some strength back and is making slow, steady progress. She did some of her exercises today that she couldn't even think of doing last week. Her laps on her walks are steadily increasing. She's getting anxious to get out of VUMC, not just out of bed to the bathroom. We know Dori is going to face many more obstacles, but it's good to be emerging from Hell Week with an increasing amount of good news.

Dr. Greer is encouraged by Dori's progress. Her white blood cell counts are rising, her fever is all but gone and the early view on graft versus host disease is the symptoms are mild (a faint arm and chest rash so far). We will know more soon after her gastro-intestinal endoscopy results come back later today or tomorrow. She might be able to go home in the near future if she stays on this course and after she begins to eat decently. I have been thinking a lot about the 23-year-old donor somewhere overseas lately. I truly do hope he and Dori get to meet next year. We will be eager to thank him for his selflessness and gift of life.

I like the fact Dori is in the room Cecil, the 70-year-old patient, inhabited this summer. Cecil, a retired minister, was the only person on the bike as much as Dori during July's dog days. He never wavered facing his disease and was a favorite among the staff, like Dori. His vibe is still alive in Room 19.

I received a nice letter from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society the other day. They mentioned my Make Cures Happen campaign at the Virginia Beach Half Marathon was the top fund-raising effort this year. They had our effort down for $15,000, but we were more like $22,000 officially and maybe even hit $25,000 total (I didn't pry asking what some donated). LLS trained 331 Team in Training runners while 156 people were part of the Make Cures Happen program. LLS raised more than $1 million at the race and the MCH effort garnered $87,500. Funds raised "will support research, public education, patient aid, community service and professional education." Quality of life for patients and families were boosted by all of you who contributed in Dori's honor. I have seen Dori personally benefit through some of the clinical trials of which she's a part, including a drug for mouth sores. THANK YOU AGAIN, EVERYONE!

Oh, yes. I haven't run in nearly two weeks. That may change, as the kids have some sleepovers soon and Dori may have enough strength to be by herself. That would be another sign things are headed in the right direction.

Friday, October 26, 2007

In awe of Dori

As noted on CaringBridge today, this week will not soon be forgotten. We're all happy it's over and that a new week has begun.

Starting late last Friday, Dori's condition started sliding. After a very difficult Saturday and Sunday, Dori gradually came out of the valley. Dori told me today she didn't think she was going to make it through last Saturday (severe nausea, chills, bloody phlegm, etc.). That was a "wow." I then asked her what helped her climb out of the trough, and she said, "God," and then "You and the kids." Good priorities, if you ask me.

Fortunately, she says she doesn't remember much from the last seven days. I wish I could forget it. Seeing your true love go through hell (the right term) is taxing. You feel helpless almost constantly. I've heard the following many times and said it a few ... that God has equipped our species to go through things like this. True, but it is difficult to watch what Dori is experiencing. But as one of the care partners said today while she was walking, "Good times are coming, Dori." That's what Dori said God has promised her.

The kids are doing relatively well. They are still laughing and playing, and doing well in school. I firmly believe they are watching their parents stare down fear and anxiety and trying hard to emulate our actions. They haven't seen Dori since Sunday, when Dori was in rough shape. Seeing Mom in pain made Will cry. It hurts to write that a week later. Kathryn has woken a few times just wanting to talk. I've heard the kids and Dori all talking in their sleep, and Lord knows what I'm muttering after the lights go out. It all adds up and takes its toll, and you do nothing but face it.

I am in total awe of my wife. She is a warrior. She is a leader and has shown her family and circle of influence how to respond to adversity. After Vanderbilt beat South Carolina last Saturday, the Sunday headline said, "Vandy rises to test." I thought, "That should read 'Dori' instead of 'Vandy.'" She is selfless, courageous, spirited, calm and grounded in goodness. I complement her with reassurance and the resolve to accept nothing less than victory. She deserves nothing less. Also of note, our solid marriage has never been stronger. I ask God every day to let us carry on together to the next chapter, and I know many more are asking the same.

I'm not exhausted, but I'm starting to feel it. It's that raw feeling when you haven't had enough rest or personal time. I haven't run, which has been my panacea, in more than a week. That's too bad, since the weather is perfect for some 5-6 mile runs. Duty calls.

I have to vent a little, something I haven't done much. I don't believe it's healthy to waste reserves on negative stuff. That said, I think the caregiver class we took before Dori was readmitted was irrelevant to our experience. Most of it was a rehash of what I read from the National Marrow Donor Program's handbook. There were no "real-life" examples of what you might expect or things that have hindered or hurt patients in the past ... and to what challenges or pitfalls caregivers should be alert. I won't list that here, but suffice it to say my Mom and I have shared general impressions with some staff we trust and will be delivering specifics at the appropriate time so other families can be aware and alert, if they so choose. It certainly would have helped us plan and prepare better. Quite a few organizations (and people) tend to present information through their own eyes and not their audience's (customers, patients and caregivers, etc.).

Dori is falling asleep, and I better join her.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Dori is in the most critical part of her battle, according to Dr. Greer this morning.

This weekend has been hell for Dori ... she is coughing up bloody phlegm and having trouble with dry blood causing severe congestion; she is queasy and occasionally sick, and her mouth and stomach are sore. She hasn't had solid foods since last week; her IV of nutrition is hooked up, but she did need an insulin shot last night to help processing. She's at Day Plus 12 since the bone marrow transplant, and has at least another week of this until engraftment. It is difficult to watch, so much so that we're discouraging visitors and that means the kids, too, unfortunately.

Most folks who know Dori well would barely recognize her right now. She is puffy all over and barely and rarely opens her eyes. She still hasn't complained a lick. Women are so much stronger than men. That is now clear to me. My greatest concern is Dori getting up on her own while she's so heavily medicated. She already fell last week, and is wobbly when she gets up to go the bathroom. Last night, she got up five times, two times without alerting me. Since I'm "sleeping" with one eye open, I immediately bounced up both times to escort her. She simply cannot fall right now.

To say all of this wears on you is an understatement. At some point, I'm going to have a good cry ... and down the road, hopefully a good laugh. I am forever grateful to the positive reassurances and support we're getting from expected and unexpected places. Our family members have been terrific, to no one's surprise; our friends, new and longtime, are stepping up with our children and by watching Dori this week.

I didn't really want to chronicle all this, but I felt I should for one reason ... that we can look back on this with clarity to recall what we endured and to live out our lives with zeal to fulfill His expectations. Dori is simply enduring hell on earth to get to a better place.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

'And I ran ...'

Pretty good photos of the kids running, eh? Thanks to their great coach, Kathy Dortch, for these photos. Both Will and Kathryn improved throughout the season and learned a lot about themselves. Kathryn has good running form, while Will is very consistent with pace. Neither gave in on the hot days, and both bonded with teammates.

Thanks to our friend, Marian Kohl, who took the kids to Cheekwood yesterday with her girls, I had a few hours' free time late yesterday. If you guessed I went running, you win. I ran 5.5 miles on moderate terrain in perfect weather. Low humidity and dewpoint ... it was barely warm in the sun and cool in the shade. My pace was slow, but I wanted to breathe easy and enjoy it all.

I did so, except right at the end of mile one. To avoid inhaling some gas fumes and grass clippings churned into the air by a lawn guy, I held my breath for a few seconds. When I felt I'd cleared the swath of tainted air, I opened my mouth wide to take a deep breath. Immediately, a large insect, probably a big fly, slammed into the back of my throat. "CODE RED," I thought. I gagged, spit and attempted to eject the intruder. I'm not sure I did, but I used half my water in the process. The incident didn't ruin my run, but I'm sure I was the sight for a minute or two.

One thought on my run was how the half marathon training prepared me for managing this chaos I'm experiencing personally. Right now, I essentially have two jobs, and am a father, pseudo-mother and caregiver to Dori with all the associated duties. We may not think it, but we are equipped to do all of this, even though some days are difficult (Friends and family help, even though they often say they're not doing much). But when duty calls, you step up, as my friend Al likes to say. Buy-in to the mission is essential to handling the stress and anxiety.

Anyhoo, half-marathon training this summer was a God-send. I never took off one day, except at the end when I was injured and could not run. Some days, I woke up at 4:15 and said to myself, "This is crazy. I can't believe I'm about to go running this early." Before some afternoon runs in extreme summer heat, I mumbled internally, "Jez, Jim, are you serious? It's 98 degrees outside." But to succeed, there are no off days from the schedule. That's what Dori is counting on from me, and I am damn determined not to let her, or my children, down. I experience personal failings sometimes (impatience among several), but am able to regroup pretty quickly, in part because of the training.

I only ran eight miles this week, but every mile helps me cope better. So thanks, Marian, for the reprieve and the energy boost.

I'm hoping to catch a little college football today. Vanderbilt plays 7th ranked South Carolina, a team that usually pushes us around. Maybe we can push back for a change. Go Dores.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Been awhile

These are some of my friends at my 20th year reunion at Vanderbilt. Dori encouraged me to spend some time at the festivities and have fun, so I did after some abbreviated QT with her at the hospital both Friday and Saturday before heading to campus.

Many of my friends were fun and pretty cool 20 years ago, but today they're more than just cool - they're mature, kind people, and often hilarious or witty. I saw many folks I hadn't seen in years. Most everyone looked like they did 20 years ago, with an added wrinkle or two and some receding hairlines. Most folks seem to be staying in good shape, bucking the trend of the rest of the nation.

I stayed out way past my bedtime on Friday, even though I hit the brakes more than the gas pedal, if you know what I mean. After a few beers, I spotted a table with some Krispy Kremes and some coffee that seemed like the right call. On Saturday, I pressed the gas pedal just a smidge, though I called it an early night after the VU-Georgia game. Yes, Vandy lost a game they could have won (ever seen Groundhog Day with Bill Murray?). But who cares, really? I've got much bigger fish frying these days.

Kathryn and Will, as we noted yesterday on CaringBridge, are doing very well in school. This has been a good year for them, though I don't ever remember having the amount of homework Kathryn has in 4th grade. Dori's sister, Kathy, will be here this weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing her, and so is Dori. Kathy will carve pumpkins with the kids. I'm thinking some churching will be good after some very hectic weekends to start the fall.

It rained today. Yes, that is blogworthy. Nashville is in a severe drought. I called my sister this morning, and - as once heard on Star Trek - queried, "What is this thing your people call 'rain'"? She laughed only a second and got excited. "It's raining? That's great!"

I haven't really been running much. I ran five miles on the Stones River Greenway one day last week for a weekly total of just under nine miles. The clip was brisk, but not fast ... about an 8:35 pace. I ran an easy 2.5 miles today at lunch. I'm very sore for some reason (probably a combination of lack of rest and stretching, the need for new running shoes, and just being worn down).

This really is my first change to blog in a week. I am much busier right now than I was this summer, and summer was busy. Each day is going by quickly, which I look at as one day closer to Dori's being cured of leukemia.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

No time for running

Here are two recent photos of Kathryn and Will. The photo of Kathryn was taken Sunday after their cross country meet. The pic of Will is with Pepper, who has begun to lose "his puppy verve" and is becoming a calmer companion. The timing of that is good, by the way.

The kids had very good races Sunday. It was hot as Hades, but they both ran great. Will ran a 5:50 3/4 mile, while Kathryn ran a 7:50 mile. Kathryn is often emotional after her races, so I now stay away for a few minutes until she chills out, literally and figuratively. Will is having a consistent year, both in track and school. This Sunday should be the first cool race day; I'm excited to see them have more fun than running in a sauna.

I, on the other hand, have had little time to run. Between having two jobs right now (my old job and a new one with a recent promotion), managing the kids and the house, and being with Dori at the hospital ... there is almost no time for a run or to think about anything past 15 minutes. Since I was preparing for some of this bedlam, I've accepted it and am dealing with it. I did run 3.7 miles in moderate terrain in 90 degrees Sunday, my only run in a week. I took it slow. Maybe I'll get a run in before the weekend. Fingers crossed for Thursday.

If you're like my sister Anne and I, you are a weather freak. I just have to know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow and in five days. Well, that means I watch a fair amount of the Weather Channel. When they do the Local Forecast, they usually play good music. Right now, they are playing an instrumental song that I absolutely love ... Do you remember Ferris Bueller's Day Off? The song in the Chicago Art Gallery? Anyone, anyone? The song, full of oboe and synthesizer, is "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" by The Dream Academy, one of my favorite bands. Sadly, there is no soundtrack so don't get fired up about loading up your iPods. There are some other versions of the song, but that's like drinking decaf.

I am very excited about Monday, October 15. That is Dori's and my 13th anniversary. I won't give away anything to Dori, but Will is working on something special for us (yes, my parent radar is up). Our wedding day in 1994 was the most perfect day. Cool, high 60s, no humidity. Before the wedding, my friends and I watched Vanderbilt beat Georgia, 46-30, in Athens. Dori looked so stunning when I saw her escorted by her Dad I had to fight back tears. She smiled and laughed the whole night. When Union Station Hotel lost our reservation, I slipped the bellhop $10 (big money back then), and he secured us a room across the street at the Renaissance. Dori and I ate curly fries and a cheeseburger at 1 a.m. before heading out the next day for our honeymoon in Colorado. Every anniversary has been special (our 10th was probably the best because I surprised Dori by taking her back in time that day). I'm looking forward to another one with my beautiful bride. By the way, lots of 10s in this paragraph. Dori's bone marrow donor match is a perfect 10 of 10, and her transplant is on 10/10. Get the picture ... feel the vibe? Bo Derek's got nothin' on Dori.

My 20th year reunion at Vanderbilt is this weekend. I plan to swing by, which Dori is encouraging. My Mom is catering for 300 Friday night, and John Marcheschi is staying at our house Saturday. I will see many good friends, some of whom I've done a decent job of staying in touch with in recent years.

It's late nights and early mornings these days, so I better run. Count your blessings every day and live life like Lance and Dori.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Irradiation starts tomorrow

Dori's total body irradiation starts tomorrow and will conclude Friday at VUMC. She'll do two sessions - morning and afternoon - of 12 minutes each day. The good news: She comes home to rest each night. Then it's off to VUMC on Saturday for an approximate one-month stay.

How would I describe things around the house? It's like right before gameday, if you're an athlete or watch sports. There is anxiety, which manifests itself in different ways. I'll describe how I handle. I pray to God for calmness and inner strength. I want to exert energy because I get hyped up to win. The downtime leading up to gameday, as I noted earlier, is my hard time. When gameday approaches, I'm ready to strap it on and knock some folks around. I have to watch my intensity. I have a big role, but I'm not the patient.

I am watching Dori like a hawk. She's had plenty of distractions and obstacles since June, and more have begun to appear. I continually remind her that her prize is over those obstacles. I love the notes folks are sending her. Patricia Eastwood said "the smart money is on YOU, Dori." Melissa Red said there is a stadium of friends out there cheering her on. Great visuals, which I hope people keep sharing with Dori. She's choosing her own, but you can never hear enough of them. The next one might be her favorite.

Yesterday, Dori and I were in CVS, where we saw a 10-year-old girl named Pressley who has leukemia (AML) and her mom. They're from Rock Island, TN. Pressley checked in to VUMC in April and checked out Sept. 12. That put things in perspective for us. Dori was at VUMC for 54 days, from June 15 to August 7. Pressley, who was wearing a mask, had a bone marrow transplant 61 days ago. She is doing well. Her mom, who had shaved her head for Pressley, has a tremendous spirit and shows immense love for her daughter. We wished them the very best and each prayed that God remains with us and our families. There are NO coincidences.

Our friend, Chuck Hendry, is getting his bone marrow transplant from his brother next week. Dori and Chuck, who once again will be 11th floor buddies, talk fairly often. Chuck, like Dori, is being cheered on by a stadium full of friends and family. The smart money is on Chuck Hendry, too. I included a link to Chuck's CaringBridge site in the Links section on Dori's CaringBridge site.

I've pounded some pavement the last few days. I do love running in the fall weather. It's so much easier than running in August. After Sunday's five miler, I ran 3.6 miles in 30:45, an 8:32 pace, at Radnor on Monday and 4.0 miles untimed down Belmont Blvd. tonight, probably at an 8:45 pace. I'm at 12.6 miles after three days this week ... I better watch out or I might enter a race soon. The meatloaf, cheese grits and frozen yogurt are tempering that enthusiasm. On occasion, I do eye the back of the fridge, which has that beverage called beer I used to drink in greater quantity. In 2008, when Dori returns to good health for good, I will get back in that groove and toast the triumph of my loving partner and best friend again and again. Until that time, it's gameday.

Before I run, here's a link to the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling. A good friend reminded me of this poem, which has meaning for all. It had been awhile since I'd read it.

Thank you for the prayers for Dori and my family. You are loved and appreciated.